Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights; Report

5:46 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, I present the ninth report of 2017, Human rights scrutiny report, and move that the report be printed.

Ordered that the report be printed.

I seek leave to have my tabling statement incorporated into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

I rise to speak to the tabling of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights' Human Rights Scrutiny Report 9 of 2017.

The scrutiny report seeks to provide parliament with a credible technical examination of the human rights implications of legislation. This is pursuant to the committee's mandate under section 7(a) of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 to examine the compatibility of recent bills and legislative instruments with Australia's obligations under international human rights law. In undertaking this examination, the committee receives legal advice in relation to the human rights compatibility of legislation, in which it is supported by an external legal adviser and secretariat staff.

Like all parliamentarians, scrutiny committee members may, and often do, have different views in relation to the policy merits of legislation. The report does not assess the broader merits or policy objectives of particular measures. Committee members performing a scrutiny function are not, and have never been, bound by the contents or conclusions of scrutiny committee reports.

The majority of new bills considered in this report – fourteen – were assessed as either promoting human rights, permissibly limiting human rights or not engaging human rights.

As outlined in chapter one of the report, the committee is also seeking further information in relation to nine bills and instruments. The committee requests additional information where a statement of compatibility has not adequately addressed human rights matters or the committee otherwise requires further information to complete its examination. The committee has also provided one advice only comment to a legislation proponent.

As set out in chapter two of the report, the committee has also concluded its examination of a number of Federal Financial Relations (National Partnership payments) Determinations following correspondence with the relevant minister. The examination provides a positive example of constructive engagement with the committee's dialogue process. The response received from the assistant minister to the committee's initial requests allowed the committee to conclude that payments to the states and territories through these determinations were likely to promote a range of economic, social and cultural rights. The committee has requested inclusion of this additional information in statements of compatibility accompanying such determinations going forward. In this respect, I welcome the assistant minister's commitment to include this kind of information in statements of compatibility from September 2017 onwards.

I encourage my fellow senators and others to examine the report to enhance their understanding of the committee's work.

With these comments, I commend the committee's Report 9 of 2017 to the Senate.

5:47 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to draw attention to a number of points on the findings of this report and the comments the committee makes on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless debit Card) Bill 2017. At paragraph 1.136 they make the point:

While the report states that 'overall, the [trial] has been effective to date' in terms of its performance against certain pre-established indicators, the report also contains some other more mixed findings on the operation of the scheme.

It goes on to state a number of findings. The committee carried out its consideration of this bill prior to the so-called Wave 2 report being tabled. I suspect some people will be tempted to say, 'Don't worry, that report only refers to evidence in Wave 1.' But Wave 2 is a comparatively flawed analysis of the trial, such that you could just substitute their concerns about Wave 1 with Wave 2. All that's changed between those two so-called independent evaluations are some statistics.

If you look at some of the points raised, in terms of making people's lives worse off, the Wave 2 report says, 'Across the two sites, participants were more likely to indicate that it had made their lives worse rather than better,' which is very similar to 49 per cent of participants in the Wave 1 report saying their lives were worse. Not only that: you layer on top the very skewed database. Even the report acknowledges that the way the evaluations have been undertaken could lead to a skewing of the data. But more important is the way that the so-called figures they got through their push polling survey process have been skewed. For example, in Wave 2, of the 479 responses to their surveys, 228 reported none of the behaviours—we are talking here about drugs, alcohol and gambling, which are the three behaviours that the government is supposedly trying to knock off. So what they are doing is taking a sample and saying, 'There has been a reduction in alcohol consumption,' but it is against a much smaller proportion than the 479 responses. In other words, the percentage of people they say have reduced their consumption is, in fact, much smaller when you consider it across the whole of the group that they are supposed to have surveyed. It is not an accurate reflection of the number of people who have supposedly reduced alcohol consumption.

If you go to the next point, they talk about the study where the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU reported: 'It is very difficult to articulate and find out what impact the actual measures had against the alcohol restrictions that are in place in both East Kimberly and Ceduna.' Paragraph 1.138 says:

… the concerns raised above in relation to some of the interim report's findings suggest the trials have not been definitively positive. It is therefore not clear from the statement of compatibility as to why extending and expanding the trials will be effective to achieve the objectives of the measure.

Those are very good points that are being made. Paragraph 1.141 says:

There is a concern that the trial is now being extended through the bill, with no specified end date or sunsetting provision and potentially without adequate consultation with the affected communities. In this respect, the bill would permit 'trials' to be rolled out, extended and imposed on communities on a compulsory basis through legislative instruments without existing safeguards.

Since when do you have trials that don't have end dates or sunsetting provisions? That is a point they make very well. They say:

… the cashless debit card would be imposed without an assessment of individual participants' suitability for the scheme.

It is a compulsory trial. It is compulsory, because everybody who is on a working-age payment has to be on this card. They make the point in the committee comment section:

Previous human rights assessments of the trials identified that subjecting a person to compulsory income management engages and limits the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to social security, and the right to privacy and family.

They then go on to list a number of points that they are raising with the minister.

I would like people, when they are viewing this report, to also look and consider the other major problems that you have with the Wave 2 evaluation of these trials. For a start, they push poll. There is a survey that they send out to participants that asks a lot of questions. Something has been pointed out to me a number of times by others talking to me about this, and I also have made the same point myself: if you know I'm from the government and I'm coming to ask you about your approach to drinking, gambling and illegal drug-taking, and you know your social security depends on this, guess what you're going to say? You are most likely to say: 'Of course I'm not drinking. Of course I've reduced my drinking.' That is the same approach they took to the evaluation of the Northern Territory intervention, and that's what they found—people's responses did not reflect what was happening on the ground. That is qualitative information, not quantitative information. The report is highly reliant on anecdotal evidence: what people think and what people report.

Going back to the survey, which, as I said, is qualitative, not quantitative, guess what one of the final questions is? At the conclusion, it says, 'Name three positive things about the trial.' Even if I hate the trial, I have to say three positive things, then they get trumpeted by the government, who say, 'Look at all these positive things people said about the report.' That is push polling in anybody's book. You then look at the fact that the report conveniently does not properly mention the crime statistics. It doesn't deal with these adequately. We know that the crime statistics for Kununurra are available, because we got them through the WA parliament from the WA Police. They show a significant increase in some key crime areas in Kununurra—not all of them, but some significant ones—around robbery, theft and threatening behaviour. Similar statistics in Ceduna, which have been available on a more regular basis, I have to say, also show that some areas of crime have increased significantly.

One of the key areas that people have raised with me in the time since this report was released last Friday—significantly, hours after the government made its announcement that it's introducing the card into Kalgoorlie, not allowing any of us to have a proper analysis before they're out there misrepresenting the data—which they haven't released the data on and looked at, is the domestic violence figures. We understand that they are in fact available but haven't been released. I'm aware that people are trying to access that data. This Wave 2 report does not show, if you look at the data properly, that this has been successful. There are a number of people in both these communities that think it has made their lives worse, that it has not achieved the objectives that the government says it has. Please, read the human rights committee comments on this and substitute Wave 2 for their comments on Wave 1. They obviously haven't had time to look at the final Wave 2 report, but all their comments are still extremely pertinent to the bill. I recommend people have a look at those comments.

5:57 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be very brief. I also rise to speak on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights: human rights scrutiny report, report 9 of 2017. My very brief remarks are going to be with reference to an item within that, the Australian Bill of Rights Bill 2017, which I note has been sponsored by Mr Andrew Wilkie MP from the other place. The idea of whether or not we should be enshrining Australian rights within a bill of rights is a debate we continually have every couple of years. Many people have different views on this debate, and these views have been very well canvassed in many places.

I think it's very timely, however, that we have a brief observation regarding this, because when we talk about human rights, when we talk about a bill of rights, we invariably end up talking about issues like freedom of speech. We end up talking about what types of freedoms are and aren't there. In the inner west suburbs of my home town of Sydney, the area where I live, around Burwood and Strathfield, in the past few days hateful material has been letterboxed and handed out, attacking the Labor Party in what would be deemed a clear breach of electoral guidelines. These are the types of guidelines I worry a bill of rights would seek to nullify. There is a flier doing the rounds of my street at the moment, and it tries to be powerful at the start, with these words: 'Do not vote Labor'—

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I say that all the time.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

People are allowed their political views. People say that all the time.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

What's controversial about that?

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Wait for it. The next bit is: 'If you want to protect family value and future'—I disagree with that, but it's well within debate. The next point is: 'if you do not want your children become homosexuality'. I note the grammar is wrong. It is also in Chinese and Arabic. I'm reliably informed they actually get it wrong in three languages. It's the next one that got me though—and this worries me because this is the kind of thing I worry about: 'if you do not want your children to learn how to sponky their monkeys'. That is what this flyer being circulated says—'sponky their monkeys'. I'm not sure what that means, but I think I know what that means. It also says: 'if you do not want the children have 63 genders, do not vote Labor'. This is hateful, ridiculous and wrong. It goes against everything we believe in. Just because we have political freedoms in this country, it doesn't mean this kind of hateful, hurtful—no-one wants to see children with 63 genders, apparently, 'sponking their monkeys' and 'becoming homosexuality'. Apparently, this is what this flyer is trying to warn us all about. It's ridiculous and there's no place for it in Australia. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.